Why You’re Too Old To Learn Guitar | Hub Guitar

Why You’re Too Old To Learn Guitar

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Short Answer

Okay, sorry about the click-bait title. You’re only too old to learn guitar if that’s what you already believe.

Long Answer

Whether or not there’s a “best age” to learn the guitar is not a simple question to answer.

Many people seem to think the best age is “very young”, and that younger is better. It is true that many of the world’s most accomplished musicians and athletes began their training at a very young age. And this should not be surprising. One of the most effective strategies for producing people of exceptional skill is to begin their training early. This improves the chances of accumulating a large amount of practice time, especially because the onset of adulthood brings many responsibilities tending to interfere with that practice.

The Advantages of the Young Mind

The young mind is still forming. Demands placed on it will influence the way the mind develops. The adult mind is also highly malleable, but in a different way. One metaphor that may be helpful is to think of margins. Training during childhood can help a young person achieve a wider margin of ability in adulthood.

In short, there do seem to be advantages to starting the study of music young. But while this may be an interesting topic of research, it is no barrier to entry for older learners. There are also advantages to opening a retirement account at 18, but that doesn’t mean people in their 30’s should forget about it if they haven’t already.

The Advantages of the Mature Mind

Contrary to popular belief, children do not learn music faster or better than adults. In fact, the opposite is true. In private music instruction, adult beginners learn much faster than children. They’ve already got a framework of knowledge and strategies for learning that have been tested for many years. Children are still learning how to tie their shoes properly.

The adult mind can quickly create, test and adapt strategies for learning the guitar, and can learn relatively fast. It is possible that some potential dexterity can only be unlocked at a younger age, but this is not relevant to most people. Most adults can develop the dexterity needed for playing guitar if given enough time. The “extra dexterity” we’re talking about is not a necessary component of playing guitar. There are famous recording and touring musicians who do not base their careers on a special dexterity for guitar developed as a child, but instead on their compositions, the feeling their music gives other people, and the hard work they put into their craft. Let’s not discredit them by attributing musical ability to giftedness or beginning at a young age.

The Talent Myth

While there do appear to be some genetic differences in the predisposition to learn music, they are also not usually relevant. There are often genetic differences separating the world’s elite athletes from common people, but that doesn’t mean the average person can’t earn a six pack with enough time spent in the gym. The importance of “talent” is overestimated, and most people would be much better focusing on what is in their ability to control than wondering why they weren’t born a genius. Because success indistinguishable from talent can be forged through years of hard work, it’s not really your business whether you’re “talented” or not. Focusing on poorly understood factors that are not within your control renders you helpless with a fixed-state mentality.

Forget About Child Prodigies

The vast majority of children who begin learning an instrument never really master it, and for the same reason as everyone else. That is, they simply don’t accumulate enough practice experience to have exceptional ability.

Viral videos are always showing up with children of unusual ability, but where do they end up? It is fairly rare for a child prodigy to remain in the spotlight until and throughout adulthood. And if you look at most accomplished musicians, not many of them seem to have been child prodigies. Maybe that’s because children experience temporary external motivation from their parents, but adults experience intrinsic motivation that is profound and long-lasting.

This is not meant to bring down child prodigies and the hard work their families do to support them. This is just meant to put child achievements in their appropriate context and dispel the notion that it may now be “too late” for you to learn the guitar.

Coda

In music practice, we are all engaged in a process of finding our own limits and pushing them further. There are adults who only began playing guitar in their retirement. Some adults picked up the guitar at a very late age, but succeeded in honing their skills to a surprising level.

If young people have an advantage when it comes to learning guitar, most of it can be attributed to a surplus of available practice years, and the flexibility of the growth mind set.

Worrying about whether you’re too old to do something is likely to cause your worry to become true. The main reason some people are too old to learn guitar is because they believe it, and, having adopted a fixed mind set, forbid themselves from learning something new.

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